Meal Times Are God Times
Cultivating Fellowship at the Table
“Eating out is my love language” — that’s what I’d tell my husband in the early years of our marriage. I was a newbie to the rhythms of making daily meals and found the responsibility a bit overwhelming and, at times, discouraging.
My common refrain was, “Food tastes better when someone else makes it.” My now-legendary-to-our-family cooking failures — such as the gorgeous-looking biscuits that my newlywed husband had to spit out of his mouth at the dinner table — kept me trepidatious about trying new recipes. Who knew that a surplus of baking soda could render otherwise delectable-looking biscuits totally inedible?
But my lack of cooking skills didn’t make the need for daily sustenance go away; it only increased as we added children to our family. With each child, we added a new tummy to fill, a new person to grow, and a new palate of peculiar tastes to train and satisfy. Preparing food wasn’t just a hobby I could take up if I felt like it; it was a necessity that I would either neglect and do poorly or be faithful in to bless others.
Much to my delight, practice really does make perfect — or at least in my case, greatly improved. After years of plodding along through boring menus, some fantastic new dishes, and occasional flops, I began to look forward to our evening suppers. The planning, prepping, cooking, table setting, and serving all became an extension of my love for the people God gave me.
As I ventured into new areas, my suppertime creativity wasn’t driven by self-expression — a means of showing my talent or hard work. It was driven by love-expression — a means of blessing and making our table joyful and memorable.
Serving Food That Endures
The food I prepare for our family never lasts. It is consumed, eaten, and sometimes discarded after sitting too long in the refrigerator. Jesus told his disciples of a “food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27).
I can’t get around the fact of daily food. We won’t survive without it. But Jesus tells us there is a food that is even more important than what I set on our dinner table. It is an enduring food, a food that lasts forever. What food is it? It is God’s Son. “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33).
“There is one ingredient to our family suppers that is truly essential. It is the Lord Jesus Christ.”
There is one ingredient to our family suppers that is truly essential. It is the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Spirit of the Lord Jesus is present at our table, a meager meal of the most basic, unadorned food, such as rice, or the most culturally despised food, such as McDonald’s, becomes an opportunity for thankfulness to God. “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4–5).
We bring the Lord Jesus to our table by opening his word together, or simply discussing the events of the day in light of his word, or singing a psalm or hymn full of the truths of his word. Just as we eat physical food every day in order to survive, so we eat God’s word every day in order to survive. And just as our physical meals are meant to be eaten at a table in fellowship with others, so too our eating of God’s word is a family meal — the shared food of an eternal fellowship.
Edible Seals of Fellowship
There is something profound about sharing a table of physical food with others, because it represents a deeper fellowship. Paul even warns the Corinthians that they must not eat with a man who professes Christ while he persists in high-handed sin (1 Corinthians 5:11–13). Physically eating together as Christians is a signal of our spiritual fellowship with one another.
This means that every evening meal is an opportunity to welcome children (as well as neighbors, friends, and strangers) into the fellowship of Christ that exists between father and mother. It is an opportunity to offer physical food that nourishes and delights, as we daily hold out the eternal food of Christ that endures forever.
If this sounds like an all-too-picturesque goal, like a Christian version of a Norman Rockwell painting, let me disabuse us of that ideal. Family meals are full of real people. And real people spill, cry, bicker, and can be picky. But remember, practice makes perfect — or if not perfect, greatly improved. My cooking skills didn’t improve without lots of trial and error and years of work.
“God does not invite us to a potluck. We bring nothing but our hunger and need for him.”
Family meals don’t become joyous occasions of fellowship just because we all sit down at a beautiful table at 5:30 p.m. Fellowship is work. It takes practice and patience. It means keeping short accounts — repenting of petty sins, asking forgiveness, granting forgiveness, following up on a bad attitude, refusing to be lazy or neglectful as parents when our children need loving discipline. Partaking of physical food and the food of God’s word together around the table is plodding, repetitive, but eternally rewarding good work.
Preparing Meals Like God
I was right about one thing in those early years of learning how to make food. Food really does taste better when someone else makes it, at least when that person knows how to cook. That’s why children love their mom’s cooking. It’s why having food made by a talented chef at a restaurant is such a treat. And it’s why the food prepared for us by God — his only Son, the bread of life — is the best food of all.
The food God makes, he makes without our help. He does not invite us to a potluck. We bring nothing but our hunger and need for him. We come to his table full of faith and hope and eager expectation. He invites us to his table and offers us the fellowship of himself and his people. He is the Provider; he is the Maker of the food that lasts; he is the Nourisher of both body and soul forever. We have the privilege of being like him as we gather our families around tables to partake of the work of our hands and to share in the provision and fellowship of Christ.